In a new report, Oxfam is calling on the USA to make radical changes in its policies towards Haiti. The aid agency argues that Haiti will remain the poorest country in the western hemisphere unless the country is allowed to develop its agriculture and industry. To assist development, key actions from America would make a significant difference.
The first priority is to persuade the USA to halt exports of cheap American rice to Haiti. In a policy introduced by Bill Clinton, American farmers receive huge domestic subsidies for growing rice. In fact, the annual payment made to US rice farmers of 434 million dollars, is larger than the US aid budget for Haiti, which stands at 353 million dollars. Haitian farmers have long been unable to compete against the cheap rice imported from the USA, which is known locally as ‘Riz Miami’ (‘Miami Rice’). Many Haitian farmers have been forced out of agriculture, swelling the numbers of rural poor in Port-au-Prince who seek employment there as the only way to feed their families. Designed as a city for around 250,000 people, the capital was home to almost 2 million Haitians when the earthquake struck.
Ironically, the US president who brought in the subsidies for American farmers is now the co-chair of Haiti’s earthquake recovery Commission. In the report by Oxfam, Mr Clinton is quoted as saying his domestic subsidy policy was “a mistake” and has meant huge “consequences [on the] capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti”. Since Haitians grow only enough rice to meet 20% of demand (in 1980, Haiti was almost self-sufficient in growing its own rice) aid agencies have to rely on imports of rice and other supplies to feed the people. Now, Oxfam is urging that money should go towards investing in local agriculture. To rebuild Haiti’s agricultural sector, the government would need to decentralise services away from Port-au-Prince, enable farmers to have access to credit and change the land system where farmers only have tenure to tiny parcels of land, known as ‘mouchwa’ (meaning ‘handkerchief-size’). As farming develops, international agencies must also buy food from local markets wherever possible.
The charity is also urging the USA to look at other policies with regards to Haiti. The Oxfam report suggests that Haiti should be excluded from the US ‘Bumpers Amendment’, which bans direct assistance to any foreign industries which compete with US exports. In addition, the USA could support growing industries in Haiti by allowing quota-free access to US markets for Haitian goods.
If these kind of historic and important changes are made, Haiti stands a chance of creating new jobs and opportunities for its people. Currently, the only chances locals have for employment are to find jobs with the 8,000 development charities working on the island.